The Nineteen Nineties



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The Nineteen Nineties

      1. At the end of the Cold War, the United States was the world’s only superpower; the United States was subsequently involved in several armed conflicts, including the Gulf War in 1991.

      2. Bill Clinton became president in 1992, leading a booming economy; he was impeached after a scandal but remained in office.

      3. The economy was driven by the high-tech industry.

      4. Music was one of the most contentious segments of the Internet economy as the RIAA sued Napster.

      5. The beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles Police in 1992 caused public outcry and rage.

      6. In 1999, a mass shooting took place at Columbine High School in Colorado; this and other news events such as the O.J. Simpson trial were captured by 24-hour cable news channels.

      7. Movies in the 1990s dealt with themes of technology and violence; new technology was also used in the marketing and creation of films.

      8. Television programs blurred the lines between fiction and reality in the 1990s.


Chapter 13: Alternative Rock and Rock Alternatives

  1. Introduction

i. Nirvana’s album Nevermind helped to launch the alternative rock boom, which popularized music with roots in the hardcore and indie rock scenes; alternative rockers dressed casually, presented themselves as amateur instrumentalists, and preferred to record for indie labels.

ii. The popularity of alternative in the early 1990s caused it to become mainstream as many bands signed to major labels, were featured on radio and MTV, and played to large concert audiences.



  1. The Rise of Alternative

    1. Seattle’s Grunge Scene: Nirvana

      1. Nirvana’s Nevermind and the single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” were hits in both the United States and the United Kingdom in 1991; Nirvana was one of the most significant of the “grunge” bands to come out of Seattle in the early 1990s.

      2. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a representative example of Nirvana’s style.

    1. Pearl Jam

      1. Pearl Jam was another alternative rock group from Seattle, and their music was in ways similar to heavy metal; Pearl Jam was also known for their anticommercial stance, which led them to fight against Ticketmaster.

    1. Other Seattle Bands: Soundgarden and Alice in Chains

      1. Soundgarden formed in Seattle in the late 1980s and blended heavy metal, blues rock, and psychedelia; Alice in Chains initially had a style similar to heavy metal, but after Nirvana’s success, they were promoted as a “Seattle band.”

    2. California Bands

      1. Alternative bands were also developing in California; Faith No More formed in San Francisco and had an eclectic style reminiscent of Frank Zappa.

      2. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were influenced by funk and had commercial success beginning in 1991.

      3. Stone Temple Pilots drew on the style of Seattle bands and elements of 1970s guitar rock.

    3. Alternative Impulses: Live, Lifehouse, and Creed

      1. The band Live emerged through mainstream channels but was marketed as alternative; Lifehouse and Creed both combined elements of grunge with Christian themes.

    4. Irony and Self-Awareness: Foo Fighters and Weezer

      1. Foo Fighters was formed by members of the Seattle bands Nirvana and Sunny Day Real Estate; the group’s music had a less serious tone than that of Nirvana.

      2. Weezer’s music is often comedic, and the group has released a number of albums successful on the Billboard charts.

    5. Pop Punk and Ska Revival

      1. The music of Green Day, the Offspring, and Blink-182 was often labeled “pop punk” because of its punk influences.

      2. A ska revival beginning in the mid-1990s produced several successful bands, including Sublime, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and No Doubt.

  1. Metal Extensions

    1. Rap and Rock: Rage Against the Machine

      1. The influence of rap played an increasing role in white rock; Rage Against the Machine combined hard rock with rapped vocals.

    2. Getting Heavy: Korn, Limp Bizkit, System of a Down, and Kid Rock

      1. Korn brought the sound of the seven-string electric guitar into rap-rock; lyrics were rapped and sometimes screamed.

      2. Limp Bizkit also used a seven-string guitar and screamed vocals; Kid Rock incorporated a wide range of styles into rap-rock, including pop and country rock.

    3. The Menacing Sounds of Industry: Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson

      1. The style known as “industrial” can be traced to Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and Skinny Puppy; Nine Inch Nails was the first to bring industrial to a mainstream rock audience, often exploring dark themes.

      2. Marilyn Manson was the name of both the band and its lead singer; Manson was a shock-rocker who included vulgar, grotesque, and satanic content on his albums.

  2. Indie Rock

      1. After alternative rock reached the pop mainstream in the 1990s, indie rock continued as underground music; independent labels, college radio, and annual festivals played an important role in the indie scene.

      2. Many indie bands recorded for small labels and did not seek mainstream attention, preferring to create music on their own terms.

iii. Lo-Fi: Pavement, Guided by Voices, and Elliott Smith

a. Indie groups embraced their lack of access to good recording facilities and rejected elements of mainstream “professionalism” by opting for a “lo-fi” aesthetic; Pavement, Guided by Voices, and Elliott Smith had different approaches to lo-fi.

iv. Merge: Magnetic Fields, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Superchunk

a. The variety of bands on the Merge label in the 1990s demonstrates the diversity of styles within indie rock.

v. Noise Pop: Yo La Tengo and My Bloody Valentine

a. Experimenting with sound was an important element of 1990s indie rock; Yo La Tengo and My Bloody Valentine both experimented with noise, volume, repetition, and droning.

vi. Female Perspectives: Liz Phair, Ani DiFranco, and Sleater-Kinney

a. The indie rock movement included more women’s perspectives than mainstream rock; Liz Phair, Ani DiFranco, and the band Sleater-Kinney all made a mark in the mid-1990s.

vii. Alt-Country: Uncle Tupelo and Ryan Adams

a. The band Uncle Tupelo helped to spark the alt-country movement by blending country and indie rock; former punk rocker Ryan Adams explored pop-country sounds with his group Whiskeytown.

viii. Indie Music in the Mainstream: Beck

a. Singer-songwriter Beck Hansen successfully transitioned from an indie label to a major label; Beck’s music combines a lo-fi approach with a variety of stylistic influences including hip-hop, country rock, soul, and classical.



b. Many indie and alternative groups shared a wariness of the mainstream music business.


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